Big data at the service of the music industry
How is it stored, managed and distributed?
Data. This four-letter word, which stands for a small piece of information that can mean everything – or not much without the right tools -, is at the core of the music industry’s lexicon and is causing major transformations in the way the sector operates. But how come?
In a MIL URL talk moderated by Eamonn Forde, music journalist at Music Ally, Dorian Perron, co-founder of Groover and JUMP fellow, Emily Kendrick, Global Product & Events Manager at XL Recordings, and Sophie Goossens, digital and media layer at Reed Smith LLP, broke down how data is being used, stored and distributed.
QUALITY VS QUANTITY
There’s a lot of data out there, but a lot a data does not necessarily mean good data, introduces Eamonn Forde. So, how does one approaches this tension between quantity and quality, in order to understand what data is useful and can be acted upon?
Data can tell a story, in a good way and in a bad way, says Emily Kendrick. For her, context and time are key: data helps to react to something, such as how fans engage with certain things, but it is important to look at these moments in the long term and within a wider context. Dorian sees
data as the new oil because data is very raw,
just lines in a spreadsheet and so, like oil, it needs refining, it needs to be treated and organised in order to be useful. So, it’s the way you collect it and analyze data that will make it an essential tool and resource.
Coming from a legal perspective, Sophie brings out the debate about data ownership and the question of whether one can claim to own the data and dictate who can or can’t access it. Being that data is becoming such a big part of some company’s business models, such as Groover, this idea of protecting it from being used by third parties is really the key question.
DATA = TRANSPARENCY?
Sometimes, data is almost taken as being synonymous with transparency, which, therefore, means that everything else is transparent as well. But it’s known for a fact that they don’t necessarily come hand in hand.
Emily brings out the way the different DSPs (digital service providers) hand their approach to being transparent about their data, noting that they are kind of secretive until they found something worth making public. On the other hand, at XL Recordings they try to work as data interpreters, gathering the information that comes from different sources and making it legible and understandable for artists. Furthermore, artists and labels have now more insight and growing access to the numbers and figures, which also makes it necessary for labels to be more pressing in terms of the information they give.
Dorian makes up a different point about this: do platforms refuse to show data or, on the contrary, they aren’t able to display them because they can’t analyze them properly? Also, when it comes to his own professional experience with Groover, it’s also a matter of transparency towards whom: the basis of the service is that the feedback that is given by the professionals is private to the artists, which might not align with the idea of total transparency in its strict sense, jeopardizing the overall existence of the platform.
Sophie mentions the fact that the recent copyright directive tried to address this issue by including a new right to obtain sufficient information to control the revenues and royalties that are being paid. This means that there is a
new obligation that will cause the DSPs to share data with the people that they have a contract with, which consequently means that this information should then be passed on to the artists and individuals. If the artist is not receiving the information he needs, there is also a right to go directly to the DSP. It remains to be seen how this will work in practice, but Sophie assures that it will surely have an impact.
WHAT ABOUT GDPR?
A lot of the data comes from consumer activity. So the General Data Protection Regulation has affected the way data is used. As Dorian says, GDPR had mainly an effect on the personal data. This means that GDPR added more regulatory and legal work to make sure all the boxes and rightfully ticketed, changing the way people can reach out, as Sophie reminds. Emily acknowledges that it is something that is difficult to navigate with, especially for artists, who might find it hard to really engage with fans the way they want to, particularly across the different revenue streams they have. Adding up to this, there’s also the fact that while working with digital partners the data they gather about consumers and fans is useful for artists but it’s not owned by them.
CONNECTING (AND UNDERSTANDING) THE DOTS
Before data analysis was based on CD sales or ticket sales, but now there is a multitude of sources that provide data, being it streaming, social media, e-mail, sales and such. This results in various individual silos of data that need to be analyzed separately and then all together, in order to understand how they affect each other. But the work of connecting the dots is far from being easy. For that, you have not only to have access to them, but also to have the capacity to understand, properly process, and cross-referencing it.
This brings out another issue: for this, you need to have resources and expertise, which has led many companies to recruit data analysts and creating data departments to handle all the numbers and figures, such as the case of the Beggars Group, which is the home of XL Recordings.
But, given that smaller labels might not have the means for this investment, do we fear that there might be a rise of a class system within data in terms of access? Sophie agrees that this might be a risk although there is a whole gamma of services servicing labels who can’t do that for themselves. Taking Believe Digital Distribution, she says that “the first quality of a digital distributor today is to be first and foremost an amazing technology provider”, filling a gap for those players who don’t have a critical size.
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